UPDATE: USDA on March 27 announced an extended deadline to sign up for ARC-PLC farm safety net programs. Farmers will now have until April 7 to make a decision.
Farmers have until the end of the day on March 31 to elect which USDA farm program they want to participate in for the five-year life of the new 2014 Farm Bill. The choices are Agriculture Risk Coverage-County, Agricultural Risk Coverage-Individual or Price Loss Coverage.
March 31 also is the deadline for landowners to reallocate base acres and update their FSA program yields, if they choose to do so.
"We are actually in the extended period for the base acre reallocation and farm program yield update process," says John Whitaker, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa. "The deadline to do that was originally Feb. 27, but it was extended to March 31."
Last chance for farmers to decide on ARC or PLC
"We're coming toward the last chance for producers to decide whether they want to elect the ARC or the PLC program. And if they choose ARC, then they have to decide whether they want to elect the ARC-County or the ARC-Individual option."
According to Whitaker, states get reports on how many farmers have made their farm program decisions.
What farm bill program decisions are farmers planning to make? Have a look in Farm Futures' exclusive illustrated report.
"But we do not have solid numbers we can release yet," he says. "Things are looking better every day. However, USDA still has a number of producers nationwide who haven't made their election yet. And we still have a lot of producers in Iowa who we still need to hear from. They need to call their county FSA office now. They don't want to miss this March 31 deadline."
What happens to farmers who miss the farm program decision deadline?
They won't be eligible for either program, ARC or PLC, for the 2014 crop year. "That's the way this new 2014 Farm Bill is designed, to look at markets retroactively and be more market-based," he says. "We are now in the 2014 crop marketing year and you could miss out on the benefit of the farm program if you don't elect which program option you want to participate in, if you don't do it before the end of the day March 31."
What about the remaining four years of the five-year farm bill? Whitaker says, "If you miss this March 31 deadline to elect, you would be put in the PLC program for 2015 through 2018. You could not choose the Average Revenue Coverage program—you could not be in ARC-CO or ARC-IC."
He adds, "A lot of folks are saying this is a hard decision to make, to choose between ARC and PLC. Yes, you need to look at this and compare the programs for the entire five-year life of the Farm Bill, which takes you through the 2018 crop year. And it is hard to project potential prices, when you are running a comparison of the two programs. But you have to remember, the full life of the five-year farm bill does count 2014."
Don't wait until March 31, call FSA office today
If you wait until the absolute deadline, March 31, to visit your FSA office you will likely have to wait in line. Whitaker adds, "If we can't take care of you on March 31, what are you going to do? That's why you need to call the county office now and arrange a time to go there and take care of your farm program election."
In Iowa, for example, farmers in some counties have nearly all made a decision. Those in other counties have a tougher decision, based on weather and yields of the past few years, he says.
Resources available to help crop producers make the decision
Is this hesitancy by farmers to make the election due to confusion about the new USDA farm programs, about how to compare them? Whitaker doesn't think that's the main problem, citing meetings and online tools that have made comparing programs a bit less overwhelming.
Iowa State University has updated tools on its Ag Decision Maker website to help farmers make informed choices regarding the new USDA farm programs. The site includes information files, farm program decision tools and the ISU Farm Bill Analyzer.